Why I Focus on one Approach

I grew up practicing Kempo Karate. A lineage called Shorinji Kempo. Which is a traditional Japanese karate system that had direct roots to Shaolin Kung Fu. But it was much more direct and practical than the traditional animal styles of Kung Fu. My system moved even further away from tradition. We had a way of cutting out what was ineffective and innovating precision to an almost obsessive level.

Even a step further than breaking away from traditional Shorinji Kempo, we were highly integrative and learned/stole from every other way of self-defense and martial arts that was possible and effective.

I was taught that since we were an integrative and non-traditional system, we had to know our identity as Kempo martial artists. That was our core, our jumping off point. Our ability to tactfully integrate other systems and techniques was predicated on knowing our primary art, first and foremost.


In the field of therapy and especially Social Work these days, it is highly valued to be eclectic. To take from every approach that works. And for right reason. In the past many therapists had trapped themselves in one bubble, creating what I would call cults of therapy.

The problem with this is obvious, that a therapist would lack outside counterpoints and checks and balances and innovations coming from outside sources would be missed. The cult of the given mode of therapy would reinforce its own hubris and clients would not be served well in the end.

The other extreme, what I call the “hodgepodge” therapist, is a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. Many therapists these days may train this way. Going from one continuing education training to another, never landing anywhere with no core integration point or identity to make sense of the various techniques and schools of thought.

These days many schools of therapy are focusing more on in depth education as the problem from the last paragraph has created many therapists who know a little bit about a lot and hope that experience in and of itself will make them effective. Of which it doesn’t as often as you would think.

Consider the difference between learning from the best in a given field, vs figuring it out by oneself. Which therapist would you choose to trust?


I once heard a talk by a psychotherapist who described a theory out there about what makes the top 20% of therapists different from the other 80%. Off the top of my head: they believe in the possibility of change and will pursue it tenaciously, they are flexible and will change their approach and stance as need be, and they are well trained in their particular orientation. Another facet may have something to do with the relationship but I’ll have to find the talk again.

So the truth always comes to be somewhere in the middle. This is why I have a primary approach but will use every other form of therapy and human potential that I know of to get to change.

This fantastic primary approach integrates all the secondary stuff I work with and have studied.

For example: mindfulness, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Schema Therapy, breathwork, somatic therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Focusing, and so on…




The Mighty Pneuma or Breath

Breathing is the greatest low hanging fruit of changing one’s mind-body state. I tend to hyphenate mind-body because that is how I see it, as one entity, one system. Not Decarte’s humunculus in the head puppeting a body.

As a therapist, I teach virtually every adult and adolescent I work with, at least one breathing technique to be used in therapy sessions and in everyday life.

Breathing is always there. And it’s intimately tied to both the entire nervous system and emotional system.

The old school somatic/body oriented and experiential psychotherapy approaches (I’m talking “Gestalt Therapy” and “Reichian” body work from the 1940’s and 50’s) all used to emphasize one major problem observed with clients: Most people do not know how to breathe!

Most modern people breathe shallow, usually into the chest but some into the belly. I also observe that many people use excess effort to breathe out. As if to control the breath and tense against feeling in both the in-breath and out-breath.

As yoga has become popular in recent decades, many every day people are becoming familiar with pranayama or the yoga of breathing. This is great essentially that many everyday people are learning to work with and control breathing.

But I have one major criticism of pranayama techniques compared to the more western approaches to breathwork: Control. Pranayama emphasizes control of breathing to control and manipulate breathing.

Even some popular teachers of breathwork such as this Wim Hof who has become popular in the biohacking community (I still highly respect his work and what he is doing despite this point) us that ‘C’ word too often.

Here’s an important point of which I wish I can proclaim on the hills: The mind-body already knows what to do! It is simply blocked in it’s natural process of growth. What in AEDP terms is called ‘The Transformance Drive.’

Essentially, the highest ‘yoga’ of breathing would be to relax and allow the body to breathe you fully and deeply, moving through the entire body. All the while you’re aware of the breath without manipulating it.

Therapeutically, we begin by specific techniques to calm the overactive nervous system and anxieties of stress and trauma. Quiet powerfully I might add. And such is the breath itself.

But techniques lead to the natural ability to be open to the natural breath.

This occurs almost invariably in moments of great change. There is a natural deep breath and sense of core space, like emotional constrictions in the belly and chest are released and one can breathe deeper and much fuller with great sensations of positive emotion and relaxation.

So, keep in mind during my next post on specific breathing techniques that techniques are a large first step but ultimately, the body knows how to breathe itself.



Psychodynamic in the Purest Sense of the Term


The origins of the work that I do as a therapist has roots in the Psychodynamic tradition of psychotherapy. More notably, a small movement within this field (two to be precise) that moved away from the old insight oriented and overly past digging schools of therapy to a more moment by moment focus on present felt experience and empathy to lead directly to change.


Because most individuals out there without graduate degrees in clinical psychology may not be familiar with what psychodynamic means, I’ll introduce the term:


Psychodynamic is an umbrella term for a movement in Psychoanalysis, the original movement beginning with Sigmund Freud that founded Psychotherapy. The Psychodynamic approach went away from the old way of laying on a couch and not interacting with the Psychoanalyst, but to sit face to face (a real innovation believe or not, for the 1930’s and 40’s).


They also began to emphasize how the past experiences with early family and caregivers is projected onto the therapist, and therapist relationship.


What I want to put out there is that I personally LOVE the term Psychodynamic. But it unfortunately comes with tremendous baggage. It has a whole way of working and belief systems of what causes problems and what leads to change.


What I strikes me about this term is it broken into two: Psychological-Dynamic… Psychodynamic. Or Psyche-Dynamic.


If I let go of the history and baggage, I feel that this term speaks to the work that I do and is beautifully carried out in this new wave of experiential psychotherapy approaches.


My work and my AEDP approach in general begins from no particular place or theory other than a theory of change and creating a safe and helpful therapeutic working relationship from which this drive to change can occur.


This “gentle experiential” approach to change, in my humble opinion is dynamic, or psychodynamic in the purest sense. Meaning it begins from where the client is and follows their experience wherever it naturally leads.


Some forms of therapy deny the past to focus on the present or future. Some focus on the present. Some focus on the past too much.


My approach respects the dynamics of the person and how organic this work unfolds. Sometimes one’s inner world flows organically without prompting. Sometimes prompting is needed and the past, present, or future is avoided as difficult or painful. Sometimes difficult experiences and emotions are there, sometimes it’s positive or adaptive emotions and experience you want to move towards.


In any case, I consider my work to be psychodynamic in the purest sense in that it works with the flow of the whole person in relation to self and others, past/present/future. The whole body-mind system as is present in the room at any given moment.


This creates an ease in which nothing particularly has to happen and the other’s inner world is not forced into a cramped theoretical box that gets in the way of authenticity, genuineness and the direction of transformation.     


Free Association

(Note: this was an old post that I had originally written for a more academically oriented blog that I discontinued, so it may use more clinical language than my more recent posts will use.)


Free Association Isn’t Dead!

This title is meant to reference a famous magazine article (I think it was Time) that announced on the cover that Freud isn’t dead. I remember a professor in my psychology undergrad who referenced the cover in a presentation about psychoanalysis. Now I am not a psychoanalyst but recently I have begun to see what of his theories have stood the test of time.

First, is transference. Is it any wonder why transference and counter transference are widely taught in modern social work or counseling programs? Next, there is the idea of ego defenses. They’re everywhere, albeit re-constructed on in many ways they have stood up to much empirical testing and exist to keep reality distorted and difficult affects at bay. For some reason I always think of Beck’s cognitive distortions when I think of ego defenses. I believe he was an analyst at one point.
Anyways, a quick look upon the EBSCO search engine revealed a surprising number of hits. Many from modern day psychoanalysts and many from other fields such as research. Why am I interested in free-association? Why do I think that it’s relevant?
What are we as clinicians doing in therapy? Why talk, listen to stories and so on? Why, because we are waiting for associated material to arise in relation to narratives that can be worked with. How is memory formed? By associations. What are the moments that cause vivid memories to be stored? Those moments during high sympathetic arousal. Pain and pleasure cause long term potentiation in the brain. Before Freud abandoned the trauma theory on neurosis he discovered disowned memories and affects would arise when the mind was taught to flow freely. Defenses would stop this flow and as worked through they would reveal more places of disowned experience and memories.
The analyst Ferenczi believed that the ability to free-associate in and of itself was a marker of termination of therapy (Free Association). What does this mean? When one’s experience can flow without having to be defended one is healthy. The world of psychoanalytic interpretation and over theorizing is hubris. I’m saying this harsh statement from an experiential humanistic standpoint. I do love many ideas in psychoanalysis but the over theorizing has always been a limitation to the field.
Perls and Jung were both influenced by early Freudian ideas but took free association in other directions. Perls taught a continuum of awareness where free association was moved to the realm of the body and behaviors (Naranjo). Jung taught his active imagination where the image generating aspects of the mind were cultivated freely. Then there was Karen Horney who wrote the first self-help psychoanalytic book (Horney). Her method is essential to let the mind flow when issues arise until the cause of the feeling or character pattern comes to light.
Some describe free association as exposing the cracks in the mind and how this leads to a deeper contact with energy-motivational systems leading to greater wholeness (Barratt 2013). This same author, himself a psychoanalyist makes a great argument for the use of the body in free association. In a way that seems common sense to me, free association has a relation to imagination (Lothane 2007). Even though Jung rejected the free association method (Hoffer 2001), his method of active imagination could be likened to a free associating or free flowing of the mind in relation to one’s subjectivity brilliantly represented by images. Even psycholanalysts with a foot in hard neuroscience (who’d ever thought) argue that free-association is a holistic mind-body method of bringing implicit memory to the fore (Klockars 2004). Barratt above also describes the method as radically opposed to Cartesian dualism. Lothane (2006) makes an argument that a therapist is much more effective if they are in touch with their own flow of associations in their mind and body in dyadic relationship. This reminds of a superb book called “Attachment in Psychotherapy” where Wallin (2007) writes at length about being in touch with somatic and cognitive associations in relation to the client’s process. At times the author’s examples of his associations are so spot on to what is unconscious in the client it is freaky. As if he has this 3rd eye that can see inside the other. I’m sure mirror neurons and other great things from the field of interpersonal neurobiology can explain these phenomenon easily.
A final interesting aspect of free associating that I have found in a surface researching of the topic, is that positive affect appears to relate to more global associations while negative moods and states cause more narrow and binary associations (Brunye et al. 2013). For example, a person in a negative state has the tendency to associate warm with cold, light with dark and so on. A person in a positive state may have an enhanced tendency to association warm with Summer breeze, or light with a feather. This brings to mind clients living in an inner world of dysphoria, generally depressed to feeling terrible from their struggles. Their world is much more constricted and defended. Their minds may lack the tendency to go towards narratives that bring out healing on their own and thus need guidance for this to occur. Sound plausible?
Personally, I am not a psychoanalyst, although I have studied much of it to see what gold can be milked from the field. So I am not very apt to sit behind a client while they lay on a couch and free associate while I interpret with a notepad divided in half. But I have found great benefit in assisting clients to free associate in “spurts” when stuck on an issue or when there’s a felt-sense (more on this later) they’re stuck with feeling. I say things such as “let your mind flow around it without censoring anything” or “just let whatever comes up be and tell me what’s happening.” Something like that. It can be difficult for more guarded, anxious-dismissing attachment styles to be able to let their mind-body system flow for the fear of dreaded vulnerability or emotion in general to arise. Then the other end of the spectrum: anxious-preoccupied or disorganized individuals may easily associate but may appear overwhelmed by any part of their narrative of associations that arise. I find deep breathing and mindfulness techniques to bring them out of their inner world helpful. I’m sure you have your own.
Overall, I find that anything that leads to a communication between body, mind and emotion facilitates the person as a self-righting process. It’s even fun to do on your own, you truly cannot predict what will arise.



Barratt, B. B. (2013). Free-associating with the bodymind. International Forum Of Psychoanalysis, 22(3), 161-175. doi:10.1080/0803706X.2012.729860
Brunyé, T. T., Gagnon, S. A., Paczynski, M., Shenhav, A., Mahoney, C. R., & Taylor, H. A. (2013). Happiness by association: Breadth of free association influences affective states. Cognition, 127(1), 93-98. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.11.015
Hoffer, A. (2001). Jung’s analysis of Sabina Spielrein and his use of Freud’s free association method. Journal Of Analytical Psychology, 46(1), 117.
Klockars, L. (2004). Linking mind, body and language: Free association revisited. The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 27(2), 105-112.
Lothane, Z. (2007). Imagination as reciprocal process and its role in the psychoanalytic situation. International Forum Of Psychoanalysis, 16(3), 152-163.

The Promise of Psychotherapy


Psychotherapy has the potential to transform our lives and quite possibly society as whole. But too often it falls short of living up to this type of impact on those who are brave enough to work on themselves.

I have felt this frustration in my six or so years in different forms of therapy as a client. Too often, I did not feel that I was getting somewhere. That the effect I was receiving was any higher than the placebo effect.

I have listened to the experiences of many clients with experiences from other therapists. Many clients are left feeling like it is helping but not much. Or once or twice on a rare occasion they viscerally experience some change.

I have been reading in several books on the business of psychotherapy, that in a generation or two ago, psychotherapy lost much of its prestige and therapists are not making what they used to.

Although there are many factors to this, such as managed care and such, I have a personal feeling that psychotherapy as a whole has not lived up to its promise of leading to change effectively, efficiently, and in a deep and satisfying manner. Despite many schools of therapy, many of which have complex theories and models.

I believe that psychotherapy has a vast and rarely tapped potential to transform the lives of clients, that is just beginning to be realized.

This is why I chose so called “experiential” approaches as my base of work. I feel that these diverse schools of therapy truly focus on the change process, are more palatable to clients than the other popular approaches, and lead to happier and healthier states of being than the majority of modern humanity finds themselves.